As a teenager I read George Orwell’s 1984 and whilst I found it fascinating and scary in equal measures, I just couldn’t imagine that our world would evolve into something even close to what was predicted.  It was science fiction as far as I was concerned.

Fast forward just a few years (!) and the extent to which large parts of the population are influenced (often wrongly) by what they see or hear in the media makes me wonder if Mr Orwell was closer to the mark than I ever thought possible.  Last week I spent time with a client who has been hung drawn and quartered in the press and online, which has resulted in him being suspended from work and been in receipt of hate mail and threats.  His crime – given that in this country we are innocent until proven guilty, and he hasn’t even been charged with anything, let alone convicted of it, means that it cannot be said that he has committed one (not that you’d realise that if you’d read the articles) and even if the CPS do decide they have to do something, it will be for political motives, with little if any chance of a conviction. The facts of the case are miniscule compared to what he is being accused of and subjected to online.

It’s not just the press that is watching and reporting on everything we do, often wrongly.  Some employers think that it is acceptable to tell you not only what you can do at work, but also what you can do in your private lives.  There have been a number of cases where employers have dismissed employees for expressing their point of view on social media.  For example, it has been reported that a woman, who was against gay marriage was dismissed from the housing association she was working for, and that a man who worked for Asda has been dismissed for posting a Billy Connolly sketch on his social media page, because the piece was deemed anti-Islamic.

Whilst I would never encourage anyone to say anything rude, discriminatory or inflammatory online (or anywhere else for that matter) does an employer have the right to tell me what I can do, think, feel, comment on etc in my private life.  If I am pro Brexit, and my employer is anti, can he justify dismissing me for expressing my point of view, simply because he thinks it might damage his business?  Where do we draw the line and when does it stop being good business practice and start being censorship?

As a starting point, I’d recommend a well-reasoned social media policy, which discourages people from bringing the company’s name into disrepute, but doesn’t contravene their right to express their views, so long as those views do not break any laws, such as incitement to violence.  Staff don’t have to mention their employer on their social media platforms, so perhaps one way to differentiate between business and pleasure is to suggest that staff don’t say where they work, so there is less risk that any of their personal views will have any effect on the employer’s business.  I think employers should also look at the big picture.  Asda, for example, may feel that they protected their brand by dismissing the employee, but I wonder whether the subsequent publicity surrounding the dismissal will do more harm than good?

Kleyman & Co Solicitors.  The full service law firm.  Actions speak louder than words.